Friday, Oct. 22, 2010

The Appeal of the Challenge: Off The Wall's, "Around the World In 80 Days."

Off The Wall Theatre Mounts a Huge 2 Part Musical Based on Jules Verne’s Classic

By Russ Bickerstaff
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There’s something undeniably appealing in a challenge. In a way, the entire appeal of Jules Verne’s Around the World In 80 Days drew a large part of its appeal from the challenge of the title. The draw of the adventure lies in observing Phileas Fogg as he rushes to make it around the world in less than three months for the sake of a rather large wager.

Running now through the beginning of next month at the Off The Wall Theatre, Dale Gutzman’s musical adaptation of the novel draws much of its appeal from the same kind of challenge. A four hour epic, Gutzman and company have split performances of the production into two different parts, each consisting of two acts. The $30 ticket price covers both performances. When purchasing tickets, audience members specify which day they would like to see Part 1 and which day they will be seeing Part 2.

There are likely a number of reasons for splitting the show-up into two different two-act performances. These reasons likely have little to do with the adaptation. Far loner novels have been adapted into far shorter stage shows. A three-hour musical adaptation could’ve been managed without losing much of the story. The real appeal of seeing a show of this length is joining the adventure. While there are four hour-long weekend performances (with dinner breaks between each part) most of the people seeing the show will probably be seeing it on two different evenings . . . it’s a bit more of a commitment than the usual theatre evening. It’s that commitment that draws audience members into the spirit of the show. No, it won’t be perfect—the Off The Wall Theatre is one of the smallest performing spaces in town . . . only the smallest fraction of the breath of the global adventure will sweep through the tiny space. Each actor plays a dizzying number of roles in a closet full of costumes. The matchbook spectacle of it all also has kind of a flea circus appeal . . . Dale Gutzman assembles a tiny music box of a show that tells a very familiar story with a great number of actors.

I wouldn’t review Part One of the show without seeing Part Two. (I’ll see that next week . . .) There were some impressive performances . . . Jeremy C. Welter makes for a fun Passepartout—sort of a Peter Sellers/Clouseau-French accent with a whimsical comic personality. Robert Zimmerman is appropriately engaging—and surprisingly musical as the British Detective Fix.  Some of the more clever moments of comedy feature an impeccably Indian Christopher Elst as a train conductor on the subcontinent. Fogg and company arrive at an unexpected stop on the uncompleted India line and Elst, Robert Hirschi (as Fogg) and Lawrence Lukasavage (as a military Brit) have a moment straight out of the Marx Brothers.

Part One begins in London and ends in Hong Kong. Single performances of Part Two begin next Wednesday. The itinerary ahead includes songs with titles like, “Karma,” “Break the Barricade,” and . . . oddly enough “Ninja Battle.” Funny, I don’t remember any shinobi in the original novel. They must’ve been extremely effective—assassinating minor characters around the edges without ever making an appearance in Verne’s text. Sneaky . . . sounds like a fun two hour wrap-up to what I saw last night . . .

Off The Wall’s Around The World In 80 Days runs through November 7th. A comprehensive review of both parts of the show appears here next week. 

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